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Even “bad” cultures get some things right

There is a noticeable focus on “culture” lately, whether the topic is recruiting, engagement, development, retention, what have you. It’s all good stuff to discuss. I mean, it’s been around for a REALLY long time, but I’m glad to see intentionality around something that is going to happen anyway.

The prevailing theme I’ve noticed is the idea that culture will make or break your organization; that if your culture isn’t right ain’t NOTHIN’ in your organization is right.

I’m here to say….kind of.

Even in the most challenging of cultures, there are things that an organization might be doing really, really well. Just like in a good culture, there are things an organization might be crashing and burning on. I think culture buys grace and benefit of the doubt – a good culture means employees are slightly more understanding when an implementation or initiative goes wrong. It’s not a get out of jail free card, though. Organizations still need to focus on the right things across the board to help their employees contribute their best selves at work.

I’m reading Patty McCord’s book Powerful, recommended through the HR Book Club (check out the book club here!). If the author sounds familiar, it’s because she was one of the co-authors of the famed Netflix Culture Deck. This (pretty long) document has evolved over the years and is often cited as an example of how that company just “gets it.” McCord has gone on to become an in-demand consultant, helping organizations with their cultures and growth. Whether or not you think Netflix is a company you want to emulate (and there are those who question some of their tactics), Powerful outlines some very relevant points about how to be intentional about the organization your building – from the culture to employee engagement. Much of the advice goes beyond traditional “HR” or “talent” suggestions – which I appreciated.

As I read the book, I couldn’t help but think that while the intent of the book is to imply only “good” cultures follow, I’ve worked in organizations that did many of the things in the book…yet had a reputation for being a “bad” culture. This was a helpful realization – it reminded me that even in the most challenging of environments, you can identify positive elements to take with you. 

I’ve jokingly referred to a past organization in past posts (rhymes with fish), and while yes…it was a very tough culture to work in, I learned a lot while I worked there. I also truly appreciated some of the business practices that leadership followed that I have missed in other organizations, including ones highlighted in McCord’s book.

Here are some of the things that were done in this “bad” culture:

  • Quarterly all company updates: Every quarter, the executive leadership team would hold a virtual “all hands” meeting – at corporate, it was live; in other locations, it was broadcast on our internal channels. At this meeting, employees heard from the CEO, CHRO, General Counsel, COO, CFO, CMO, and any business leaders spearheading a major initiative. The CFO update in particular was excellent – we learned how the company measured financial success, how to read a basic P&L, and what variable costs employees could help control in their jobs. Lesson: You want employees to learn how a business makes, saves, and spends money? Tell them.
  • Field visits: We used to call them “ride alongs.”  Basically, if you worked in corporate, you were encouraged (and at director and above, required) to do a quarterly visit in the field. This would include a day spent with an installation tech and a day spent with a call center agent – preferably, in a market other than your own. It was a great way to talk to employees in their own environment, and to give them a chance to brag about their jobs…and share their concerns about corporate. Lesson: Think HQ is too much in an ivory tower? Make people leave it.
  • Visibility to all parts of the business: Because not all employees could go on ride alongs, new employees learned about the business in new hire orientation. The group was given an overview of operations and asked to manage a budget spit amount R&D, field ops, call centers, corporate, and people; and based on the budgeting, they saw the impact spending had on other parts of the business and had to learn to think through business decisions strategically (or as strategically as you can as a new employee). In the high potential development program, we took participants to other locations and gave them a chance to learn more about a new business unit. Lesson: You want people to think like an owner? Let them see what they’re making decisions about.

There are countless other examples that occurred on a daily basis that helped me understand fully what the business was trying to do and why. Being in HR, I often saw more than the average employee about how and why decisions were made – it wasn’t always pretty, but it was fairly transparent. I cut my teeth on corporate America there and have carried those lesson with me throughout my career. And even though it may not have been seen as a “good” culture, it was definitely an “aligned” culture – we knew who we were and didn’t shy away from it. For those who loved the environment, it was a great place to work. For others…it was a great place to learn from and move on.

This post is meant to remind you that there is something to learn from every business…but it’s also a cautionary tale. Just because you check off a bunch of “culture positive” initiatives you read in a book doesn’t mean you’ll automatically create a positive culture. It comes down to the people who execute those initiatives and the daily interactions that happen among leadership, employees, and customers. It’s about the intention and morality of those people. It’s about what you reward and tolerate in your organization.

All hope is not lost, though. It’s still worth the effort to lay a good foundation and build from there. Even the toughest cultures can inspire employees to take the lessons they’ve learned and be better leaders. So don’t dismiss a “bad” culture outright – sometimes there are diamonds in that rough.

Have you worked in a “bad” culture that did some things right? I would love to hear about it! Share in the comments or connect with me online. 

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2018 in culture, General Rant about Leading

 

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Representation and Women in HR Tech

The first half of the first day was dedicated to the Women in HR Technology conference. First of all, I greatly appreciate the fact that the role of women in technology was highlighted – not just from an end-user perspective, but from the leadership in creating and driving the innovation of the technology. I also appreciated seeing so many men attending sessions. Highlighting women doesn’t mean exclusion of men – it means raising everyone’s awareness, and it takes all of us to be more inclusive.

The sessions were good – smart, thought-provoking, data-driven, focused, actionable. I was sad I couldn’t attend all of them based on the Twitter stream I read. As I sat listening to the opening and closing keynotes, as well as some of the sessions, I was stuck by how the topics were intertwined by cause and effect.

Rita Mitjans, the Chief Diversity Officer at ADP, shared data highlighting the importance of diversity for innovation and success in a business. She also shared that while woman and people of color are entering the workforce at decent numbers, they are not advancing in the workforce. Later in the day, Jenny Dearborn, EVP, Human Resources and Global Head of Talent, Leadership & Learning at SAP, shared data around the skills gaps in tech, highlighting the challenges of filling roles in technology. Perhaps the solution is right in front of us.internet of women

Think about it – we know bias is a real thing in hiring. It’s also a real thing in promoting employees, and this problem perpetuates itself in businesses because promotion is more about visibility than ability. Yet within businesses, women tend to be less visible – they are called upon to do fewer presentations to the C-Suite, they are talked down in meetings, they sit in the background rather than at the head of the table. These small actions add up to real consequences. Earning potential drops. Women leave the corporate world. The talent pipeline dries up. And Jenny Dearborn has to do keynotes about the challenges of filling tech roles in Silicon Valley.

This made me think about the importance of representation. If there were more women in tech leadership, there would be more women in tech. Period.

A personal story:

When I was picking a college to attend, I targeted one that would allow me to be a physics/music double major. I assure you – there are not many. A visit to the University of Denver convinced me they were a good fit. The Physics Department had respected scientists, the music program was top notch (a little too focused on classical opera singing, but that was fine), and I liked the student to teacher ratio. After enrolling, I downgraded the music to a minor just for sanity’s sake, but loved being able to do both. Freshman and sophomore years were challenging but great – I had terrific classmates in my physics classes. Each of us had different strengths in thinking through problems, so we complemented and learned from each other. But most of those classmates were either chemistry or pre-med majors and the first two years of physics for them were just prerequisites. For me, it was my future.

Flashforward to junior year. I was the ONLY physics major at DU. That meant it was me and professor in all my advanced classes. And all of my professors were men – not just in my physics classes, but also in my advanced math classes. On the surface, that’s not that big of a deal. After all, a lot of professors are men. But I never once had a mentor in math and science who was a woman. I lost my support group of fellow students. I faced professors who had been doing these classes for years and didn’t know how to interact with a single female student in class. They insisted on leaving the door open for all classes, regardless of how loud it was outside the classroom. I understood why – but it impacted my learning. Halfway through my junior year, I opted to change my major, and graduated with a major in history, and minors in physics and music.  

Would I have stayed in physics if there had been more representation of women? Maybe, maybe not. Intro to Complex Variable was hard, yo. I do know that it shook my confidence right at the time when I needed to believe in myself the most. Now, there are several female astrophysicists and other scientists represented on television, talking about science and making it cool to be smart AND a girl. I love them for that. I watch them and cheer them. And I make sure I tell girls about them and encourage them to love science and technology.

I tell this story because I believe in representation. I believe it impacts a company’s success. I believe it builds strong talent pipelines. I believe it builds strong, confident women who refuse to take a lower salary because they should just be grateful they got the job. I believe it continues to help women realize they should never ever apologize for their success, nor should they be considered rare and magical when they show up at a conference and share their knowledge like the badasses they are.

So thank you, HR Tech Conference, for giving women in HR technology the visibility they deserve. We’ve always been there. Now it’s time you see us.

 

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2018 in Conference Posts, culture, Uncategorized

 

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It’s the week of #HRTechConf, y’all!!!!

This week, a whole bunch of people are descending upon Las Vegas for the 2018 HR Technology Conference. It’s a remarkably large conference that explores all aspects of how technology impacts business and people. You might think it’s just about product demos (and those will be there), but there’s so much more.

One thing I’m particularly excited about is the continued exploration about the intersection of human bias and artificial intelligence (in whatever way you want to to define it). Technology is a product of its creators, and its creators sometimes make horrible decisions. We are at an important crossroads – will we be able to use technology to enhance our human interactions or will we use it to avoid them?

I’ll be sharing my observations from the Expo Floor, the sessions, and all the interactions I’ll have with all the HR practitioner end users who are struggling to make sense of how to make technology work FOR them in the workplace.

Follow me on Twitter at @mfaulkner43 or all the people tweeting on the #HRTechConf hashtag this week. I’ll also be blogging from the conference, along with a group of incredibly talented and smart bloggers posting to the conference blog site.

Is there something you want to learn more about? Send me a DM and I’ll try to check it out!

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2018 in Conference Posts

 

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My first #HRTechConf

You guys, I FINALLY GET TO GO!!!!!

Here’s the deal – in the past, I’ve either worked for companies that were way too big to justify sending an L&OD person to HR Tech or they were way too small to justify sending a non-HRIS person to. Or else I was speaking at a conference that just always happened to be the same week (I’m looking at you, WISHRM).

But this year, the stars aligned I get to go to the conference. And even better, I get to work with the blogger group. In return for my conference pass, I am asked to attend the sessions as an end-user, sharing what I see and my experiences as an HR practitioner in the wild. It’s like HR Tech Nerd Christmas.

I’m super stoked.

(And super dated. Who says stoked anymore?)

Looking through the agenda, I can honestly say I am overwhelmed by the amazing options available. I’ll definitely be starting my conference on Tuesday with the Women in HR Technology track.  From there, I’m trying to decide between bouncing around a number of different tracks, or just planting myself in every single AI session led by John Sumser, who is doing some amazing research and analysis in this area.

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I was looking for a something that looked like HR Tech Nerd Christmas. I found this instead. 

As an HR leader about to embark on the quest of implementing a new HCM, I’m really going to learn more about the experience that others have had as they go down this path – what did they learn? what did they wish they had known before they got started? what are the questions I should be asking the vendors along the way? who in the business was their biggest ally? I think that sometimes the HR experience in HR tech gets left out, so my goal is to share my perspective and the perspectives of other HR practitioners who are on various places on the tech savvy spectrum.

I’ll be live tweeting sessions, so follow me on Twitter at @mfaulkner43 and follow the #HRTechConf hashtag all week, September 11-14. If you’re on the fence about going, there’s help available. And use the promo code SURVIVE18 for $300 off your registration (who doesn’t love a sale?).

It’s not every day you get an opportunity to attend a conference that speaks to a multitude of your interests. I can’t wait to learn from the sessions and the speakers. And I can’t wait to share what I learned with anyone who wants to read about it.

I’ll keep you posted!

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Posted by on August 20, 2018 in Conference Posts, Uncategorized

 

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The way we win matters

What’s that? ANOTHER movie reference in a blog post? Hell yes. Buckle up, buttercup. Let’s do this.

It’s no secret that I love science fiction (and science fantasy, where I firmly place Star Wars, but that’s a discussion for another time). I started reading Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison at a very young age. Which explains a lot, really. What I appreciate about the genre is that it is such a mirror of who we are as a society – and who we want to be. Some sci-fi is post-apocalyptic and depressing, some is unnaturally cheerful and optimistic. (You can probably guess what kind I tend to watch.) All of it acts as a social commentary for the time in which it was made.

One story I experienced first as a movie and then as a book is Ender’s Game. Regardless of what you think of the book’s author, the story and world building is brilliant and engaging. Years ago, Earth was invaded by an alien species and barely survived. Since then, society has been obsessed with preparing for the next attack, training children to be the leaders of the battle because their brains can process the multitude of data faster.

Ender, so-called because he is a third child in a society that limits most families to two, is unique among his peers. He is the perfect combination of aggression and compassion, believing that the best way to defeat his enemy is to love them, because only then do you understand them. When confronted by bullies at his school, he gravely injures the toughest boy – an apparent over-reaction to the situation. When questioned why later, he replies that he wasn’t fighting to win that battle – he was fighting to win all future battles, too. (Seriously, go watch the movie and read the book – so good.)JALWS Letterhead I

One line in particular has stuck with me. [SPOILERS AHEAD] Near the end of the story, Ender and his unit have been undergoing simulation after simulation to defeat the Formics (insect-like aliens). In the final simulation, they risk nearly everything to defeat the entire race of Formics. Ender sacrifices thousands of (he thinks) simulated lives to achieve victory. Following the simulation, the adults cheer…it turns out, the simulation was the real battle. Colonel Graff (played by Harrison Ford) explains they didn’t tell Ender because they didn’t want him to hesitate…that they needed him to do what was necessary. Graff insists Ender will be remembered a hero. “We won,” Graff proclaims. “That’s all the matters.” Ender fires back, “No. The way we win matters.

This line says so much. It embodies so much of our humanity…or lack of it.

How many times have leaders claimed winning is the only option? How many organizations sacrifice values, integrity, dignity because they tell themselves the ends justify the means? Win at all costs. No holds barred. You have to play the game to win the game.

How many times do people regret that approach? In the long term, I hope it’s all of them. Because you give up something vital when you tell yourself that it doesn’t matter how you won. In the short term, it might seem like the smart play, but ultimately, history judges us all. It exposes the lies we tell ourselves and lays bare our mistakes.

Right now, American society is at a crossroads. We have an administration that values “winning” and loyalty over all else. We have a majority party in Congress that is willing to “win” no matter what the cost. We have organizations that are choosing to align themselves with a president who has been accused of sexual assault, and then turn around and speak about the dangers of #metoo. We live in a world where the number of  impressions and Twitter followers appear to be more important than values and critical thinking.

Is this what winning looks like?

I’d like to believe we’ll right this ship; that we’ll realize that attention isn’t the same as regard. That small “victories” are meaningless if we lose the larger battle. That sacrificing what we believe for the sake of a photo op means more than a slight PR hit. The decisions we make moving forward as leaders – as human beings – say more about us than short term gains. Are we willing to admit that sometimes the right thing to do IS the hard thing to do? Do we have the courage to turn down what looks good in favor of what IS good? Are we willing to speak up when our leaders can’t? Or won’t?

I hope so.

THE WAY WE WIN MATTERS.

 

 

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#SHRM18: Style or substance?

As #SHRM18 winds down and 20,000 +/- HR professionals get ready to head home, it’s time to reflect a bit on what we saw, heard and learned during the conference.

My fellow SHRM Bloggers have been sharing amazing content throughout the conference, and I encourage you to read what they’re writing. Many of them are breaking down the sessions and highlight key takeaways, and you should definitely go read what they’re writing.

Thinking about what I’ve seen this week, my challenge to you as you go home is to think about style vs substance. No doubt you saw a number of speakers who entertained, energized and basically showed you a good time. That’s great! It’s always fun to see that kind of speaker.

Now…what did you learn from them? When you go back to your workplace and your coworkers ask you what you like about the conference, what will you tell them? Will it be about the fun you had? Will it be about what you learned? Will it be both?you-cant-have-style-if-you-dont-have-substance-quote-1

My hope is it’s a mix of both. Don’t confuse “fun” with “learning.” Don’t confuse entertainment with takeaways. Again – there is nothing wrong with fun and entertainment. Both of those things can help drive home the content and ensure you remember what the speakers wanted you to remember. But what will you apply? Can you recreate the feeling of the session you were in back home? Can you share the content of the session you were in with your team?

As leaders, we all struggle with the balance of style or substance. We see leaders who are charismatic and high energy gain popularity…and ultimately burn their teams to the ground because they have no freaking idea what they’re doing. We see leaders who are incredibly smart and capable fail to get ahead or gain buy-in because they lack the “spark” that people seem to respond to.

I don’t think it needs to be an either/or – it should be a continuum, a balance of style AND substance, capturing hearts and minds and spurring people to action. As you respond to the speakers, so might you respond to leaders.

So remember this lesson as you return home with dreams of changing your environment. Think about your leadership team and how they interact with your employees. Think about how YOU interact with employees. Are you simply “entertaining” them? Or are you helping them learn, grow and change?

Thank you, #SHRM18! You made us think. You helped us connect. You challenged us to change.

See you next year!

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2018 in Conference Posts, Uncategorized

 

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